a Perpetual Patriot
thing that happened as I began my phone
interview with Lee Reinhart, on active duty
somewhere in Kandahar, Afghanistan, was a siren
going off in the background there, and the sound
of a distant thud. "Hang on," he said, "I
have to find out what's going on....." And
then, hurriedly, "I'll have to call you back..."
click. Holy Shit! In all my wartime
calls with our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in
the past seven years, I'd never before been
interrupted by incoming ordinance! He did
call back, thank God. And the first thing
he pointed out was that this incident
demonstrated what most folks back home, here,
seem to have forgotten; that the war is not over
in Afghanistan, that our service members there
face the ultimate danger every single day.
"Its still the real thing over here," he said.
Reinhart joined the US Navy in 1995 after coming
out and subsequently leaving the bible college
he'd been attending in rural Indiana. He
could have gone off to Chicago or some other big
city to live freely, have fun, and just be
himself. But, he chose to serve his
country. Deployed in the Persian Gulf
aboard the guided missile cruiser USS COWPENS
CG63, he was more or less open with his peers.
Eventually, during that DADT era, too many
people knew he was gay, and he had to come out
to his operations officer in order to free his
peers from having to keep his secret and to free
himself of the same stress. The
Ops Officer laughed, he said, and told him, "Get
back to work."
honorably discharged in 1999. But, being a
patriot like many others, he was moved to rejoin
in 2001 after the WTC attack; this time he
joined the Cost Guard. Unfortunately, his openness resulted in his
being discharged within four months under the DADT law.
the next nine years as an activist for gay
rights and the right to serve in our armed
forces. On the day that DADT was repealed,
December 21, 2010,
he was in Washington DC
and went to the grave of Leonard Matlovich in
Congressional Cemetery, with
Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley,
and placed an
American flag there.
Quigley stated, “The repeal of the morally
repugnant ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy is
further evidence that this country continues to
move inexorably toward equality and civil rights
for all. What Sgt. Matlovich started three
decades ago was finished this week because of
heroes like Lee Reinhart, and it is a privilege
to share this moment with both of them.” Lee
added, “I am honored to be in Washington to see
the end of the discrimination that ended the
career of Sgt. Matlovich and so many other brave
Americans. This will put an end to the lies that
patriots—both gay and straight—have had to tell
to keep themselves and their comrades in the
service of their nation. I look forward to the
chance to serve my country again, without having
to live a lie.”
(SOURCE: Quigley's House Website
was repealed, he spent the year preceding the
first day that we could serve openly preparing
for his reenlistment. He'd contacted his
former Captain of the cruiser he'd served on in
the Navy, assuming that he, too, had known he was
gay. Now a retired Admiral, he said that
he had not been told, that he would have had to
discharge him had he known, but that he would
have hated to have had to do that. He
wrote a letter of recommendation so that Lee
could be among the first of those discharged
under DADT to be able to reenlist in the Navy.
Lee Reinhart reenlisted on October 24th, 2011,
just over a month after the first day that open
service was permitted. With Lee's family
in attendance, Rep. Quigley administered the
oath to him, as shown in this ABC video
||He is now on a
one-year individual deployment as an E-5
Logistics Specialist, LS2, Petty Officer
Second Class, whose job it is to inspect
and determine the disposition of
military material destined to be
disposed of. He has the
responsibility to make sure that parts
cannot be used to make weapons to be
used against our troops. He
regularly flies by helicopter all over
Afghanistan on this mission. "The
small bases are the most dangerous," he
said, casually, just after his main base
had apparently been hit as we spoke.
is it like, how does it feel?" I wanted to know,
after all this time, to be back serving his
country in a combat zone.
have no regrets;
what I wanted to do. I hope my
service honors all those who fought so
hard for the right to serve. I'm
blessed to be here," he said. But, it
isn't easy, he added after a pause.
"Military life is hard. I'm going
to be forty years old in a few weeks.
You forget how much privacy you give
up. It's been a hard adjustment.
It's not really about being gay, it's
adjusting to being older."
have changed, of course. There is no
longer a need for secrecy, no longer a need to
have to hide who you are. Even there, via
social media, small groups can arrange to meet
and socialize, openly using on-base facilities
"on the boardwalk."
to use the Internet to follow the progress we
are making here on marriage and other issues;
but he misses his nine years of activist work.
"It's hard not to be in campaign mode; but I'm reaping the benefits of what I fought for."
that kind of patriotism! I call Lee
Reinhart a perpetual patriot because, while many
of us are deeply proud of our service, few have
the patriotic determination that he seems to
have to have joined not once, or twice, but
three times in order to finish what he started.
May we all wish for his safety.
With thanks to Michael Bedwell for additional
research and information.